Local Mercy Ships members: 'Decision to delay trip is unpreceden - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Local Mercy Ships members: 'Decision to delay trip is unprecedented'

Mercy Ships to delay trip to Benin. (Source: KLTV Staff) Mercy Ships to delay trip to Benin. (Source: KLTV Staff)
Mercy Ships to delay trip to Benin. (Source: KLTV Staff) Mercy Ships to delay trip to Benin. (Source: KLTV Staff)

An East Texas based international medical organization has decided to delay its most recent trip to the African country of Benin as the Ebola virus spreads.

Mercy Ships, a Lindale-based non-profit organization, which provides various surgeries to patients in the world's most underprivileged countries on their hospital ship, was supposed to head out to Benin last week. The organization announced they will hold off until the end of the month when they will determine if the trip is safe for their crew and doctors aboard. 

Local Mercy Ship members said delaying scheduled trips is an extremely rare decision for the organization, but one that they said was vital in this case.

The Mercy Ship docks at the world's most medically devastated countries, but this time even the massive hospital ship and it's trained crew are not equipped to handle the deadly Ebola virus.

“We are a specialty surgical unit, so we are not equipped to respond to viral outbreaks. We have multi-bed wards and with limited isolation,” Michelle Bullington, the Program Design Director for Mercy Ships, said.

The virus has killed more than 1,100 people and sickened nearly a thousand others, making it the deadliest outbreak on record. And it has no signs of slowing.

“Ebola is a little bit different than some of the other diseases that you see commonly in Africa and part of it is it's spread and it's mortality rate,” Bullington explained.

The Mercy Ship was scheduled to arrive in Benin this week for a ten month stay, but due to the countries close proximity to Ebola stricken areas, the trip has been delayed.

"This is unprecedented. This is incredibly rare,” Bullington said.

In April the organization canceled the hospital ship's trip to Guinea where the Ebola outbreak began, instead planning on Benin.

“Because of all of our years, 23 years of working in Africa, our hearts are really in Africa,” Dr. Andrew Clark, the Director of Organizational Development for Mercy Ships, said.

Dr. Clark spent several years on that ship with a crew of 400 and, he said, safety is key.

“Not only are the patients in the other wards protected, but also the healthcare professionals that are working in the wards,” Dr. Clark explained. “There's close proximity to the rest of the ship because our hospital is in the same ship that our accommodation is as well.”

Though medical treatment may not be offered at this time, he said everyone can help even all the way from East Texas.

“We ask that you would join us in prayer for those nations and for the people that are directly affected and for the physicians and health care workers,” Dr. Clark said.

They said once Ebola is gone from those countries there will be plenty of work to be done like training medical staff. They plan to return to those areas when that day comes.

The Mercy Ship was coming off of a two month maintenance period that it goes through every summer. The crew and doctors are holding off, extending that maintenance period at this time, while Mercy Ships decides where to send the ship for its next ten month cycle that is still safe for all involved.

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